By Nathan Mayberg
WHITE LAKE November 26, 2004 An American hero was laid to rest in the Town of Bethel on Tuesday after giving his life to serve his country in Iraq.
Sergeant Catalin Dan Dima of the United States Army Reserves and a resident of White Lake succumbed to wounds inflicted during a mortar attack at Camp Victory, near Baghdad, on November 13. He was 36.
The attack took place the evening following his promotion to sergeant.
Dima spent nearly 11 months in Iraq, earning such honors as the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Dima served with the 411th Engineer Brigade as a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company in the Construction Management Section. His MOS was 71 L he was an administrative sergeant.
Dimas immense courage was summed up by Frank LaBuda, former Major in the United States Army in Desert Storm and Sullivan County Court Judge, who stated that Dima volunteered for convoy duty during the war.
LaBuda called the convoy duty dreaded and hazardous, as American convoys traveling through Iraq have been hit with constant fire during the war.
Dimas bravery extended beyond his actions during the war. At the age of 33, with a wife and three infants, he chose to sign up for the United States Army Reserves a month after the September 11 attacks.
Before that, he served five years in the Romanian army. He was born in Calarasi, Romania on June 13, 1968, leaving his home country in 1996 for a new life. He made a life for himself in New York City and married Florika Zgrda.
Dima worked several jobs, moving to Sullivan County in 1999 so that his children could be raised in a better environment.
The two had two more children while he worked for JB Hunt, a large trucking company. He eventually left there and began work as a truck driver for Central Pet Supply, based in Mahwah, New Jersey.
Dimas favorite hobby, and one of his greatest skills, was his talent with mechanics or his hands even. Dima was said by relatives to have had vehicle parts strewn throughout his front yard. He enjoyed almost nothing better than taking apart all kinds of things and putting them back together. He was known to always be working on a project.
That ability turned out to be quite handy when his unit traveled from Kuwait to Iraq about 9 months ago. It was said that when a truck in the convoy broke down, nobody could fix the vehicle but Dima. Not only did he repair it, but he drove it more than 200 miles over rugged terrain.
Another defining characteristic, repeated over and over again by those who knew him, was his willingness to help others in need. He was considered a tremendous family man, as well as a great soldier who quickly earned the respect of his unit.
His strength and leadership qualities were apparent to those who served with him. Dozens of his fellow comrades from his unit and other branches of the service attended the service.
Master Sergeant Robert Lee Whitehead knew Dima better than any of his fellow soldiers at the funeral yesterday. Thats mostly because 30 of the 31 men in his company who served in Iraq remain there. They are scheduled to return next month. One of them lost his life in Iraq earlier this year.
Whitehead said that he and Dima quickly bonded when they found out they both worked as truck drivers for JB Hunt.
The two were commonly referred to as smoking buddies. Whitehead said that when you saw one of them, you usually saw the other. He said the two enjoyed one of their best times together on a trip to Indiana two years ago, traveling to a naval ammunitions depot with their engineering group. They received gold coins from the Naval Sea System Command, which Whitehead displayed.
Whitehead commented that one of Dimas distinguishing characteristics was his amiable personality.
He was never down, said Whitehead.
According to the soldier, Dima was always happy. . . . He always made you laugh.
Lieutenant Gil Carey, who commanded their company, remarked on how the two would sometimes talk for hours. Oftentimes, Carey could hear their words as the sounds vibrated through his tent in the middle of the night.
He was one of the best friends I ever had, said Whitehead, a 34-year serviceman and Vietnam veteran. He had a heart of gold. He would do anything for you.
United States Congressman Maurice Hinchey spoke at the funeral service at the White Lake Reformed Presbyterian Church Tuesday. (The service was conducted by Reverend Father Dimitrie Musta of the Romanian Orthodox Church in New York City. Musta is originally from Yugoslavia.)
Hinchey lauded Dima for his strength and determination, as well as his humor. Those qualities should be passed down to his three children, Christian (4), Angela (3) and John (2).
Major General Richard Scott called Dima a hero, a role model, and an American warrior.
Scott noted that Dima followed a proud tradition of those who had emigrated from foreign countries and served America during wartime. In fact, Dima had gained his American citizenship just six weeks ago, while serving oversees.
Master Sergeant Jose Vera served with Dima for over two years during their training in New Windsor. He called Dima an outstanding individual and soldier.
He was a good man and will be missed, he added.
Peter Dancio, whose wife is Florikas aunt, said Dima was a great father and husband. He said the saddest part of his death would be Dimas inability to watch them grow up.
Dancio said the family was overwhelmed by the support from the community. He said such community support during times of need is what makes the United States great.
He said Florika had been offered a car from a stranger in Pennsylvania and received a check from somebody in Port Jervis she had never met. One of Christians teachers baked a pie and delivered it personally to her home. The White Lake Fire Department offered up its building for the reception after the funeral.
He stressed that the family was very appreciative of the support they received locally as well as their old home in the Ridgewood/Glendale section of Queens.
He said a scholarship fund would be set up for the children, with the help of LaBuda. Those willing to donate funds can send money to the Dima Scholarship Fund, C/O Florika Dima, PO Box 958, Smallwood, NY 12778.